“Brooke Moss has crafted a wonderfully entertaining story with strong emotion, a compelling plot, and scenes charged with a humorous touch. The “What-If” Guy takes the reader back to small-town America and keeps one glued right to the very end. Don’t miss it!”
~ Jane Porter, Award-winning author of Flirting With Forty
There she was.
It was dark, too dark to be walking somewhere alone in the big city, but since this was Fairfield, it was perfectly acceptable. I considered getting out of the pickup and helping her. My hand was on the door handle even as she dropped the groceries on the sidewalk, but I chickened out.
What the hell was wrong with me?
Ever since Autumn Cole and her son, Elliott, stumbled into my life a few days ago, I’d been acting like an insecure fourteen year old. When I drove places, I looked for her on the street. I went into Fisk’s Fine Foods in the hopes that I would find myself in line with her. Hell, I’d even picked out my shirt this morning, wondering if she’d like it. I was losing it. One glimpse of her icy blue eyes and that unruly red hair, and I am right back where I was thirteen years ago. Completely enamored with a woman who’d ruined me.
I heard Autumn swear and put my foot gently on the gas pedal. She looked right at my truck as it rolled slowly by. I should have helped her. I should have gotten out of the truck and picked up her spilled groceries like a nice man would have done.
Only I didn’t want to be a nice man. I wanted to make her feel like dirt, the same way she’d made me feel when she dumped me in the rain so long ago. But I couldn’t bring myself to commit wholeheartedly to blowing off Autumn. There was something about her. About the way she moved and the way her eyes shone when she smiled. There was a time when she was everything to me.
My truck rolled down main-street, leaving Autumn to continue walking up the hill alone. I moved slowly enough that I could make sure that she got home safely, even though the only risk in a town this size was a neighborhood dog sniffing her groceries. She looked tired. Maybe even sad. Her shoulders were sagging underneath her jacket, and there was a worry line running across her forehead. Part of me wanted to invite her to my house for a cup of coffee, to talk about whatever was troubling her, but it was pure stubbornness that forced me to continue driving in the opposite direction.
She wasn’t my problem anymore. She hadn’t been my problem in thirteen years, and I had plenty of my own issues to sort through right now without adding the woman I loved, er, used to love to the mix. When I pulled into the parking space outside Fisk’s, I slammed the car into park and ground my teeth together. I needed to stop thinking about her. This was becoming time consuming, and couldn’t possibly be healthy in anyway. Pining for an ex-girlfriend wasn’t exactly a healthy way to get through a messy divorce.
I was stomping as I walked around the tiny store, grabbing things off of the shelf to put together for my dinner. Bread? Check. Lunchmeat? Check. Doritos? Check and check. I needed to get home so that I could vegetate in front of the television with a football game on, like a normal guy would do.
“Looks like you’ve run outta the casseroles.” Ramona Fisk said as she rang up my items.
I looked at her absently. “Huh?”
She smiled, the wrinkles around her mouth settling in even deeper. “The casseroles I brought you when you first moved in? You must have gone through them all.”
I couldn’t help but smile, despite my abrasive mood. When I’d first moved to Fairfield, Ray and Ramona Fisk, owners of the only store in town, had gotten wind that I was a single man and brought me a months worth of casseroles to freeze. I’d been moved by their kindness, and enjoyed stopping in to the store to pick up items a couple of times a week since then.
Until a few days ago, that is. When I’d come home from the school with a bruised face and ego, it seemed as though the entire town knew that I’d run into my old girlfriend at the middle school. Now everyone was watching me closely, waiting for me to pounce on Autumn like a tiger on fresh meat. Especially the Fisk’s. They served their groceries with a side of gossip, and were proud of it.
“Yes. They’re all gone.” I confirmed the news to Ramona, and waited for her to offer to bring more. The ham and potato casserole was exceptional.
“I’ll getcha some more.” She opened a paper bag and began stacking my groceries inside. “Say, I heard something about our Autumn Cole being your old flame. Any truth to that?”
I stifled a frustrated sigh. Sure enough, Ramona was ready and waiting for the gossip. “I, uh, yes. She and I dated in college.”
Ramona chewed on that for a minute. “Hmm…so why did you two break up?
One of my eyebrows rose high on my head. “Excuse me?” Ramona Fisk was an audacious woman, wasn’t she?
“You know,” She said, shrugging. “Why aren’t you two married right now?”
I laughed despite myself. “You’re a hell of a woman, Ramona.”
She patted her hair. “So they tell me. Now, come on. I want details.”
“There are no details.” I shook my head.
Ramona peered at me over the top of her half glasses. “There are always details.”
Her words marinated for a few seconds. I though of Autumn’s disgruntled face as she scooped up her groceries in the dark, and I immediately felt guilty again. No matter how much I hated to admit it, there was something still there between us. A connection binding the two of us together, despite time, and pain, and resentment. Even I couldn’t deny that.
I scratched a hand across the back of my neck tiredly. “I don’t know. I guess the story is…she…” I looked up at Ramona with a sigh. “She broke my heart, and I haven’t forgotten about her since. Even while I was married, Autumn was in the back of my mind.”
Her eyes widened. “Have you told her how you feel?”
I plucked a piece of beef jerky out of the jar resting on the check out stand. “Hell, no. That is a can of worms that nobody wants opened.”
“I want it opened.” She took my debit card and swiped it. “I think Autumn wouldn’t mind it being opened, either. And I think you want it opened, too.”
“No, I don’t.” I bit into the jerky and took my card back from her.
Ramona handed me my receipt, not bothering to make me sign it, and took off her glasses. “You listen to me, Henry.” I froze in place. She resembled my mother the slightest bit, and was obviously ready to level with me. “You’re not fooling anyone. You can prolong this as much as you want. But eventually you two are gonna wind up together. You just have to get over yourself.”
Shoving the receipt in my pocket, I thanked Ramona for my groceries and ambled out to my truck. My face was hot, and my stomach tossed uncomfortably. I’d just confessed my love for Autumn to the biggest gossip in town. What was I thinking?
And what was even more unsettling…was Ramona right?
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